PR criticism from without and within; competing wi
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

PR criticism from without and within; competing wi

Paul Holmes

I don’t always agree with Alan Kelly, but he is nearly always interesting and provocative, as he is in this blog post in which he suggests that some “do-gooder” PR professionals “will wag their fingers that PR excellence is based not on winning but on aligning mutual interests.” I don’t think that’s right; in fact, I think it’s a false dichotomy. PR excellence is based on winning by aligning mutual interests. It’s about leveraging that alignment—increasing advocacy, decreasing obstructionism—to gain competitive advantage. It’s about aligning your interests with those of your key stakeholders—consumers, communities, employees, shareholders—in a better, more productive way than your competitors. On the other hand, I don’t really have a problem with journalists like Robert Peston taking potshots at the public relations industry. Journalists have been doing that for as long as I’ve been covering the business. What does bug me, though, is that PR people continue to respond to this kind of stuff, and even pile on. Does any other industry engage so enthusiastically in this kind of self-flagellation? Do journalists, for example, sit around agonizing about whether PR people like or respect them? There’s nothing particularly new about the advertising industry using “stunt-y” ideas to generate earned media for paid ad campaigns, but this example—a 13-hour commercial for Arby’s—appears to be an especially clever example of the way ad agencies are coming to recognize (and perhaps coopt) the power of PR. The answer to the question posed by the headline—“blatant PR stunt or brilliant advertising?”—is “both.” I’m not especially worried about ad agencies using PR tactics to generate supplemental social (or mainstream) media interest in their product, but I do wonder whether this pitch process—Nestle is looking for an agency to help it position itself as a “health and wellness” company—might not benefit from the inclusion of a couple of PR firms alongside the ad agencies who received this RFP. This is a corporate reputation assignment, and it seems to me unlikely that paid messaging is going to be what drives any shift in perception. Several top PR agencies have made an announcement that they will "publicly state and commit" to abide by five principles that would prevent them from editing their client's Wikipedia entry directly. That’s a step in the right direction for the industry, which has largely moved away from the kind of obvious “sock-puppetry” that creates more problems than it solves, but obviously needs an unequivocal statement of best practices in this regard. Kudos to Chopard, which appears to be taking the lead in using an promoting “Fairmined” gold, “a certification that aims to guarantee the metal was mined in a responsible manner and that its miners have received fair payment and an overall premium.”
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